While they remain a powerful backbone of the Democratic Party, a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports indicates that a growing number of Americans feel that the nation’s two major teachers’ unions are more interested in protecting their jobs and benefits than ensuring the education and opportunities of their young charges.
[T]wo-thirds of U.S. voters (66%) say the teachers’ unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – are more interested in protecting their members’ jobs than in the quality of education.
Only 23% of voters say educational quality comes first for the unions, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided.
Men and women are equally critical of the teacher’s unions. Married voters are more critical than unmarrieds by 12 points. Seventy percent (70%) of voters with children at home think the unions are more interested in jobs, compared to 63% of those without children in the house.
While 78% of Republicans and 66% of unaffiliated voters say teachers’ jobs are the chief focus of the unions, only 55% of Democrats agree.
This brings up two related issues: unions in general and education policy in specific. I’m not one of the “destroy the unions” types and I recognize the important role they played in our nation’s early days of industrialization and the useful purpose they can continue to serve today. However, as the economic battleground shifts, I have become increasingly aware that some unions have grown into self-feeding beasts which can – in the wrong hands – grow into positions where they cease helping their own members and begin to damage the industries providing the jobs their workers need. While this has been more apparent in the auto industry of late, the current state of education in this country certainly warrants some attention to their policies and practices.
Unions seem to fight any change to the status quo, such as charter schools, vouchers, home schooling and other alternative theories. With the sad state of affairs in American education, it would seem that anything might be worth a try. I’m not terribly surprised that voter confidence in the unions may be on the decline and this may be a well timed wake up call to union leadership. If we are truly moving into a “post partisan” age of new politics, here’s one opportunity to get started.
How will Obama’s choice of Chicago School Superintendent Arne Duncan affect this debate? Time alone will tell, but it will require some skill to build a bridge across the partisan lines of battle in this one.